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This year everyone at Peldon Rose has been busy fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society. Whilst we’ve had great fun raising money, we’ve also been giving extra thought on how the workplace can be more inclusive for people with illness or disabilities.
Of the 850,000 people who currently live with dementia in the UK, 45,000 are under the age of 65. With the UK statutory retirement age rising, and the number of people with dementia expected to increase to 1 million by 2021, we will see many more people developing dementia while still in employment.
Those with early onset dementia under the age of 65 are likely to have financial commitments and so will need to stay in paid employment for as long as they are able. Given that, the Equalities Act safeguards people diagnosed with dementia against unfair treatment at work with employers required to demonstrate how they have made reasonable adjustments in the workplace to enable people who develop dementia to continue to work.
So how can office design help people with dementia continue working?
Quiet spaces are calming for people who might feel anxious or confused. They should be separated from the open plan office and include soundproofing and visual barriers to minimise distractions.
Installing attractive and interesting “landmarks” in your office will help people with dementia to navigate their way around. Items such as feature walls, furniture, paintings or plants will all assist with navigation.
Also assisting navigation is signage which should be clear, in bold face with good contrast between text and background. Ideally there should also be at eye level, well-lit and there should be a contrast between the sign and the surface it is mounted on. All glass doors and partitions should also be very clearly marked.
Colour can be physically and emotionally beneficial, helping to create an interesting and inspiring environment which people find easy to navigate around. Bright contrasting colours are recommended for floors and walls, although too many colours together can be distracting.
Lighting helps effective colour contrast and so should be maximised in the office. Entrances in particular should be well-lit and make as much use of natural light as possible. Pools of bright light and deep shadows should be avoided where possible.
Reflections can cause confusion, so design should avoid any highly reflective or slippery floor surfaces. Bold patterned carpets can cause problems to people with perceptual problems, so should be replaced with plain or mottled surfaces – ideally using warm tones which are more easily distinguishable. Changes in floor finishes should be flush rather than stepped to avoid introducing a trip hazard.
There should be ample seating around the office, especially in areas where people are waiting. People with dementia will find standard furniture, such as a simple wooden bench or chair, more preferable to abstract pieces such as a metal Z-shaped bench.
People with dementia may occasionally need assistance and so facilities such as a unisex toilet or other facilities would allow someone to have assistance without causing them or other people embarrassment. Here, key items such as handles and toilet seats should be of contrasting colours to the walls.
Initiatives such as adopting a clear labelling and filing system will help everyone organise their work and find key documents with speed and ease.
Small modifications in office design can provide huge physical and psychological support to those suffering from dementia. But office design is only a small part of the considerations which employers should take.
All employers should have clear and open policies about supporting dementia in the workplace to encourage staff to be aware and tackle stigma around the condition. Whatever illness or disability someone may be suffering from, the workplace should facilitate and support people working as long and as happily as is possible.
For more information on the fight against dementia, please visit http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/